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My Interpretation of Rilke –

On a recent poetry week-end at West Dean College, with poet Phillip Wells, I was given a task to translate and interpret a poem written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I chose this one and here is the result.

( I’ve also added the translation I used to interpret it, not being able to understand German, and the original poem)

Sonnets to Orpheus part 2- no 1

Breathing, a silent poem! All encompassing

space. Inhaling, exhaling. Each breath a balance

a rhythm, an existence.

A song for life.

 

I – a single wave, but part of this

gathering ocean.

You – the sparsest sea.

A space between.

 

How many in between spaces – places

live within me. Breathings

of my unborn children.

 

Does the air know me, know these dwelling places?

You- the once perfect

pearl of all my phrases.

 

The translation I interpreted

Breathing, Invisible poem! That great

world-space, at each inhalation

exchanged for this human existence. Counter-weight

of my rhythmical realization

 

Single wavelet, whose slowly

gathering sea am I;

you, of all possible seas most frugal and lowly, –

space laid-by.

 

Of all these places in space, how many a one

Has been within me already. Many a wind

seems like a son.

 

Do you know me, air, still full of dwelling-places?

You, the one-time smooth-skinned

rondure and leaf of my phrases.

 

The Original

Atmen, du unsichtbares Gedicht!
Immerfort um das eigne
Sein rein eingetauschter Weltraum. Gegenwicht,
in dem ich mich rhythmisch ereigne.
 

Einzige Welle, deren
allmähliches Meer ich bin;
sparsamstes du von allen möglichen Meeren, –
Raumgewinn.
 

Wie viele von diesen Stellen der Räume waren schon
innen in mir. Manche Winde
sind wie mein sohn.

Erkennst du mich, Luft, du, voll noch einst meiniger Orte?
Du, einmal glatte Rinde,
Rundung und Blatt meiner Worte.

 

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